Scientists Warn That Triclosan – Found in Toothpaste and Toys – Triggers Harm to the Gut

Research by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an international team tracks the toxic effect of a common consumer product on the gut microbiome and causes colitis.

A new study in mice accurately shows how triclosan, an antimicrobial found in toothpaste, toys and thousands of other products, can lead to gut inflammation.

An international team of researchers led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel HillAnd The University of Massachusetts Amherst and Hong Kong Baptist University have identified bacteria, and even certain enzymes, that cause triclosan’s harmful effects. Furthermore, studies in mice suggest that these bacterial enzymes can be prevented from causing damage to the intestines.

The results have been published in Nature Communications.

said study author Matthew Redinbow, professor of chemistry and microbiology at UNC-Chapel Hill College of Arts & Sciences and UNC School of Medicine.

Previous research demonstrated the toxicity of triclosan, but the new study provides a closer look at the changes that occurred in the gut microbiome.

Researchers have linked specific microbial enzymes in the gut, particularly microbial beta-glucuronidase (GUS) proteins, with triclosan, and shown that these enzymes drive triclosan to wreak havoc in the gut.

Knowing which bacterial proteins were the cause, the team used an inhibitor that targets the microbiome to prevent triclosan from being processed in the gut. Blocking this process in mice prevented colon damage and symptoms of colitis, a form of inflammatory bowel disease.

The study provides new clues about the management of IBD among the growing numbers of people diagnosed with the disease. IBD can be managed for long periods of time only to break out seemingly out of nowhere.

The study authors suggest the need for a better understanding of the impact of environmental chemicals on gut health.

Triclosan was widely available in antibacterial soaps marketed to consumers. But in 2016, the Food and Drug Administration ordered it removed from hand washing products used in homes and hospitals over concerns that it was contributing to bacterial resistance.

But triclosan is still ubiquitous as an ingredient added to cosmetics, yoga mats, and other clothing and sports equipment to reduce bacterial contamination. It’s also routinely used in many toothpastes – with FDA approval – as it has been found to prevent gingivitis.

Triclosan appears to be readily absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract, leading the study authors to write, “The safety of triclosan and related compounds should be reconsidered due to the potential for gastrointestinal damage.”

Reference: “Microbial enzymes induce colitis by reactivating triclosan in the mouse gastrointestinal tract” by Jianan Zhang, Morgan E. Walker, and Catherine Z. Thomas D. Hagerty, Guang-Qiang, Wang, Joshua B. and Hang Xiao, Valentina Borlandelli, Hermen S. Overkleeft, Erica W. Cloer, Michael B. Major, Dennis Goldfarb, Zongwei Cai, Matthew R. Redinbo, and Guodong Zhang, January 10, 2022, Nature Communications.
DOI: 10.1038 / s41467-021-27762-y

The National Institutes of Health, through grants to several authors, funded the study from the Hong Kong Research Grants Council and the National Science Foundation, “microbial enzymes stimulate colitis by reactivating triclosan in the mouse digestive system.”

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